Happy Birthday Mr. Faulkner

” ‘. . .Now I want you to tell me just one thing more. Why do you hate the South?’

” ‘I don’t hate it,’ Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; ‘I don’t hate it,’ he said. I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont!”

It’s the last lines of William Faulkner’s (1897 to 1962) Absalom, Absalom! that provoked my master’s thesis. At the time, I wanted to know why Quentin Compson committed suicide in The Sound and The Fury, and I thought I had found my answer in a novel published about 10 years later.

Admittedly, now, as I look back at that quote, what really stirred me was my own conflicted view of my state—Texas—I didn’t hate it. I didn’t. And I don’t. I do hate what people outside of the state often think of it: that all of Texas is wrapped up in the TV series Dallas.

I don’t wear a Stetson cowboy hat, and I’ve owned only two pair of cowboy boots in my lifetime. I’ve never connived against my family for an oil fortune, because I’ve never had an oil fortune, or any fortune for that matter. I’m not a fan of big oil as it is, but, at the same time, I do—mostly—love the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans; I love football, which is as much a religion here as evangelical Christianity, which I despise.

I love the state that was once a nation, and the ruggedness of the women and men who came here to forge it. I love its myths. I love that I can walk the bed of the Paluxy River in Glen Rose and see dinosaur tracks embedded there for eons. I can also shake my head at the absurdity of the creationist museum just a few miles down the road. That’s Texas.

It must’ve been a similar ambivalence that Faulkner felt about the South, about his native Mississippi, when he wrote Quentin’s protest. For Quentin protests too much. I can’t say for sure what Faulkner felt. I only know what I read.

And what I read as a writer sparked my imagination, enlivened my passion for words when I read those flowing sentences so wrapped up in the cadences of the King James Bible and Shakespeare and the lilt of the Southern voice so distinct in the audio recording of Faulkner’s Nobel speech—an inspiring speech about humanity and its ability to endure.

At the heart of Faulkner is not darkness; it’s humanity enduring in spite of itself.

“They endured,” Faulkner writes of the black servant Dilsey and her family in a later edition of The Sound and The Fury.

I would like to hope it is our fate as human beings. To endure.

Maybe one day, when the proverbial aliens make us pets in a dome (as they do in Nancy Kress’ wonderful SF novel After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall) that those aliens, when writing our history can say of us: We endured.


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